Today marks six years since the Rana Plaza tragedy. Mostafiz Uddin, managing director of Bangladeshi manufacturer Denim Expert, examines the progress that has been made.
On 24 April 2013, the Savar building at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,133 workers. Since then, there has been a co-ordinated and concerted effort by the Bangladeshi government, worker representatives and international fashion brands and buyers to ensure the garment manufacturing industry in Bangladesh is safe.
The government has been proactive in addressing workplace safety. In July 2013, it signed the National Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire Safety and Structural Integrity in the Garment Sector of Bangladesh, which put emphasis on structural assessments of all export-orientated garment factories and the recruitment of more than 300 additional building safety inspectors.
Since then, every garment factory in the country has been inspected either by the Accord on Building and Fire Safety in Bangladesh, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety or the government (see box, below). More than 3,800 export-orientated garment factories have been checked for building, fire and electrical safety, and repairs are being carried out accordingly.
The government also joined with the International Labour Organization to establish the Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC), an independent national authority to oversee workplace safety in the garment industry in the long term.
The Alliance ceased its operations at the end of 2018 as planned, and the Bangladeshi government is now working on a transition plan with the Accord. This is the right thing: it is not feasible for the accord or alliance – which are both led by groups of international companies – to continue safety monitoring in Bangladesh for an unlimited period. The task should be taken over by local authorities.
However, it must be ensured that the RCC is well equipped with experienced safety professionals ready to carry out these tasks. While workplace safety in Bangladesh has been transformed in the years since the Rana Plaza incident, there are challenges to maintaining safety standards in the future.
Suppliers have invested millions of dollars in safety upgrades to their factories, and the cost of production in Bangladesh has gone up as a result of increases in utility prices and the minimum wage [which rose 51% in December 2018]. However, international fashion brands are not willing to pay more for products. The majority of clothing made in Bangladesh are basics, whose prices are low. It will be extremely difficult for suppliers to maintain safety standards if they do not get adequate prices to cover the costs of upgrading their buildings and machinery in the future. Brands and buyers must work with suppliers to address this issue through partnership.
My factory, Denim Expert, was established in 2007 and is in full compliance with national safety requirements. The building was built to withstand up to a 7.5 magnitude earthquake. We were one of the first factories that completed the corrective action plan given by the accord. I believe safety is an indispensable part of making a business sustainable. But while making the workplace safe should be a priority for each and every factory, it is also important that buyers co-operate with suppliers to help make this happen. It is a shared responsibility to make the garment industry in Bangladesh safe.
Mostafiz Uddin is managing director of Denim Expert, a garment manufacturer based in Chittagong, Bangladesh.
Rana Plaza timeline
24 April 2013 A building in the Rana Plaza complex in Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka, collapses, killing 1,133 garment factory workers
25 April 2013 Primark is one of the first international fashion retailers to confirm it used a supplier housed in the building
15 May 2013 A group of global – mostly European – brands and trade unions sign the Accord on Building and Fire Safety in Bangladesh (an implementation plan is agreed in June)
10 July 2013 A group of North American brands that export clothing from Bangladesh announce formation of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety
25 July 2013 The Bangladeshi government and representatives of local employer and worker organisations adopt a revised version of the National Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire Safety and Structural Integrity in the Garment Sector of Bangladesh
14 May 2017 Bangladeshi government launches the Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC), with the initial remit of working with 1,293 operational factories
30 October 2017 Government gives the accord the go-ahead to operate for another three years
19 December 2018 The accord announces it has handed over inspection of 80 factories to the RCC, taking the total number of factories transferred to 100
31 December 2018 Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety ceases operations
8 April 2019 Hearing of government’s application to close operations of the accord adjourned to 19 May